The iPhony

Dan Lyons has turned his spoof blog of Apple founder Steve Jobs into an Internet phenomenon and a book

Email|Print| Text size + By Carolyn Y. Johnson
Globe Staff / November 12, 2007

As a senior editor at Forbes magazine, Dan Lyons has made a career out of observing businesses, not running them. And as an old print hand, he was a little behind the curve when it came to new media.

But the outraged reactions to a piece he wrote in 2005, calling blogs the platform of choice for an "online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective," inspired him to experiment with blogging tools. And while he was at it, the Medford resident decided to adopt the reimagined personality of one of the tech world's most feared and admired CEO's.

Thus Fake Steve Jobs was born.

After over a year of psuedonymously skewering "Beastmaster" Bill Gates and the "Faceberg" who founded Facebook, Lyons was outed by The New York Times in August as the writer of the blog that has become a must-read among the technorati for its acid tongue-in-cheek take on how the real founder of Apple Inc. might view the world - and the members of the media who are watching him.

"The joke is inside out; how do I as a reporter think CEOs think about me?" Lyons said. "The joke being that I'm one of the filthy hacks."

Lyons has never met or interviewed Steve Jobs, but the self-aggrandizing sham diary has taken on a life of its own. This fall, the screeds he squeezed into his daily routine have grown into a book called "Option$: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs," and given him a book tour that is taking him all the way to Microsoft - known to Fake Steve's loyal readers as "the Borg," after the cyberhumans that were constantly trying to assimilate mankind in "Star Trek."

On the eve of the launch of Apple's new operating system, Lyons - who wields a Blackberry, not an iPhone - took a stroll through the Cambridgeside Galleria Apple store, perusing the products he routinely takes credit for in "The Secret Diary of Fake Steve Jobs" and ruminating on his alter ego.

"There was this 'naked conversation' idea, that companies would be open and honest" on blogs, said Lyons. "I kinda did the blog to make a point - it's a CEO and he's honest. So when The Wall Street Journal writes a bad story, he's totally hammering back."

But the portrait of the flinty, thin-skinned, yoga-loving chief executive that began in jest quickly became serious. When Lyons took down the blog six weeks after he started as Fake Steve, people lobbied for the return of the fake diary that was both relentless in its takedown of Silicon Valley's culture and sometimes full of trenchant observations about the tech scene.

A colleague at Forbes would sometime send Lyons links to the latest Fake Steve. Fake Steve received fan e-mail from his own boss, Forbes' publisher, Richard Karlgaard.

The mainstream press and blogs speculated about the anonymous author of the expletive-riddled screeds against everyone from Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the One Laptop Per Child initiative ("This guy really thinks he's the shizzle, doesn't he?") to tech journalists like The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg (known to Fake Steve's readers as Goatberg). The now-defunct magazine Business 2.0 ranked Fake Steve Jobs 37th in "The 50 Who Matter Now" in July.

This fall, Fake Steve Jobs' prediction that Apple would release a software development kit to open the iPhone platform to developers the week of Oct. 15 created a buzz in the blogosphere - with real tech blogs reporting or responding to the prediction.

"My blog has become credible - that's insane. Some of it is true." That week, the real Steve Jobs announced that Apple would send out a developer's kit in February.

Now, blogging as Fake Steve is part of Lyons' job at Forbes, and he has fleshed out Jobs himself - a character whose meditation on the iPhone is interrupted by a pesky investigation into a stock options backdating scandal and who hangs with Bono.

About 1 million unique visitors check out Fake Steve each month, whether they're reading the latest musings on products - like his June 29 message to the Apple faithful comparing waiting iPhone devotees to "marchers at Selma, in the tradition of Gandhi at the Salt March to Dandi" or just reading his ruthless attacks on pretty much anyone.

In response to a business school student's blog, called "I want to shadow Steve Jobs," he wrote, "Good God, man. Could there be anything less creative, less imaginative, less valuable than going to business school? Is there any surer way to become an absolute conformist . . . than to spend two years being coddled and pampered and fed worthless pablum by failed businesspeople?"

And these days, Fake Steve is in good company. A slew of other fake bloggers are out there skewering their alter egos - Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, Sun Microsystems chief executive Jonathan Schwartz, and Bill Gates all have their own fake blogs.

So what's next for Apple? Fake Steve mulled the question as he ate chicken satay over a lunch interview, even as he speculated that his alter ego is a fruitarian, a pescatarian, or - possibly - a recovering bulimic.

Fake Steve is thinking about an iBook - yet another attempt to restore people's "childlike sense of wonder." But only if he can only figure out how to get the "buttery soft faux leather case" in the right color.

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at

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